Preach God’s Word!
2 Timothy 4:1–5
Knowing his life would soon end, the apostle Paul fixed his attention on completing his letter to young Timothy, his protégé and son in the faith. In 2 Timothy 4:1–5, Paul focused on several urgent concerns: that the gospel be proclaimed throughout the world and that Timothy take care of himself and do the work of an evangelist.
It is no wonder this text is often used at the ordinations of men into the ministry. Yet, it applies to all Christians. In these five verses, Paul gave a direct charge to Timothy, followed by five specific commands: preach, be ready, convince, rebuke, exhort.
Paul wrote, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (vv. 1–2).
The word charge is a command that refers to a forceful order before God. Timothy was to take this edict seriously because it was given in the presence of “God and the Lord Jesus Christ,” who will judge every man’s work.
All people called to minister must remember they are under the ever-watchful eye of Jesus Christ and will one day give an account for their ministries before the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12–15; 2 Cor. 5:10). Paul anticipated his works would be judged after Christ’s imminent coming to Rapture the church (1 Th. 4:13–18).
The phrase who will judge (2 Tim. 4:1) should be translated “who is about to judge.” The word judge is in the present tense and encompasses two other judgments Christ will implement when He comes to Earth at His “appearing” (Greek, epiphaneia) or shining forth (Second Coming):
First, He will judge the individuals who survive the Great Tribulation, determining who will enter the Millennial Kingdom (Mt. 25:31–32). Second, at the Great White Throne, He will judge all unsaved people who will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11–15) at the conclusion of the Millennial Kingdom.
Because Christ’s coming and judgments are certain, all believers, especially preachers like Timothy, must proclaim the gospel to the world without delay.
Timothy’s commission (2 Tim. 4:1) included five curt, military-like imperatives to be acted on immediately:
1. Preach the word! (v. 2) That is, preach the whole counsel of God, especially the gospels and plan of salvation. This imperative was not meant solely for pastors, missionaries, and evangelists. Paul had all believers in mind. Everyone should proclaim the gospel message.
The word preach (Greek, kerusso) originally was used in connection with imperial heralds. A herald would read a king’s prepared message in the public square using a somber, authoritative, loud voice, so all could hear. The herald was not there to debate or discuss the message but, rather, to demand immediate obedience to it.
He was responsible for repeating exactly what was written, not changing a word. Likewise, Timothy was to proclaim God’s Word unreservedly, without modifications or restrictions. Paul set the pattern:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1–5).
Paul preached when he was physically weak and fearful; and he did not use skillful oratory, philosophical arguments, enticing words, or clever expressions of human wisdom. He merely preached “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
2. Be Ready (2 Tim. 4:2). Timothy was to “be ready in season and out of season.” The phrase be ready means to be prepared always to proclaim the gospel. The phrase in season and out of season means Timothy was to be on standby with the gospel whether or not circumstances were favorable and whether or not he was expected to preach. To the unsaved, he was to preach about salvation; and to the saved living in sin, he was to preach sanctification through repentance.
3. Convince (v. 2). Timothy’s preaching was to “convince” (Greek, elegcho) and convict the unsaved of their sin in hopes they would become saved, as well as prompt the saved to confess their sins, leading to their sanctification.
4. Rebuke (v. 2). The word rebuke (Greek, epitimao) means censor or warn. Timothy was to reprimand and warn sinners of the error of their ways and provoke them to repentance. Such messages also should state the penalty if the warning goes unheeded. A preacher should not tone down his message against sin and its consequences. Even when he doesn’t see results, he still must fulfill his obligation; and the responsibility falls on the sinner to deal with his or her sin.
5. Exhort (v. 2). Preaching should “exhort” (Greek, parakaleo), meaning urge, beg, plead, or admonish people to repent. Yet it should also offer comfort and encouragement, showing people how to ask the Lord to forgive them.
Exhortation is to be done “with all longsuffering and teaching.” It should demonstrate patience and endurance. Preachers need to resist becoming angry or frustrated when people don’t respond to their messages. Longsuffering does not mean compromising doctrine to win people to Christ. Every word preached must be true to Scripture and grounded in sound doctrine.
Paul also wrote about opposition to sound preaching:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables (vv. 3–4).
Interestingly, it is professing Christians who will not “endure” (tolerate or put up with) sound teaching (v. 3). The word sound (Greek, hugiaina) is the basis for the English word hygiene and should be translated “healthy” or “wholesome.” People who rejected Paul’s sound, theological teaching did so because it was not what they wanted to hear, even though it was God’s Word.
Instead, they had “itching ears,” preferring people who preached “according to their own desires [lust].” The phrase itching ears refers to the listener, not the teacher. Such listeners have an unsatiable craving for liberal, new, exciting, and fanciful speculations about God and Scripture, even though such teaching is unbiblical.
Consequently, “they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (v. 4). Two words for “turn” are used here. The first means the hearers actively turn away from the truth of God’s Word. In so doing, they open themselves to Satanic influence that will “turn them aside to fables.” The second word for “turn” is a medical term that means to twist out of joint, like a dislocated arm or leg.
People with “itching ears” will be susceptible to strong delusion, making them incapable of listening to or comprehending truth. Instead, they will believe fables or myths and quickly embrace false new beliefs, even though they are devoid of all scriptural truth.
In contrast to heretical teachers, Timothy was to “be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (v. 5).
“Be watchful in all things” carries the idea of being sober, alert, and self-controlled. Paul wanted Timothy to have a clear mind and make prudent decisions; and he gave him three more commands:
Endure afflictions. Timothy was to tolerate hurtful treatment from those inside and outside the church. He was to endure all hardships, troubles, rejections, and persecutions the ministry brought to a pastor.
Do the work of an evangelist. Paul was not commanding Timothy, who was called to be a pastor-teacher, to leave his position and become a full-time evangelist. Rather, he was telling him to maintain an evangelistic outreach. A pastor’s ministry must always include preaching the gospel.
Fulfill your ministry. Timothy was expected to do everything the job required in his call and commission as a pastor (preaching, teaching, administering, and admonishing).
The apostle expected Timothy to keep moving forward without him, despite whatever opposition and persecution he might face. Apostasy within the church was coming, and Timothy was expected to carry on the work Paul was leaving behind.
These important truths are not meant exclusively for pastors and evangelists. As part of God’s unchanging Word, they are intended for all believers. No matter what happens in the world, we all are to preach God’s Word.